Friday, April 19, 2013

Seth Godin's FOMO--Fear of Missing Out: Jealousy and How It Affects the Creative Person



Way back when I was new to writing, I did an exercise from Julia Cameron's classic, The Artist's Way, called The Jealousy Map. 

Cameron worked for years with what she called "recovering artists," or writers, musicians, and other creative folk who were stalled out, not doing their art.  She proposed that jealousy often blocked us from reaching our fullest potential.  This translated into a kind of creative self-abuse.  Our Inner Critic got out of hand.

The Jealousy Map asked you to write a fast list of everyone you were jealous of.  From the local writer who just got a story accepted to your neighbor who was so creative to the last winner of the Pulitzer Prize. 

I went wild.  I had no idea how much jealousy lurked inside me!  My best friend, members of my writers' group, luminaries like Pam Houston (a short story writer I adored), and others got scribbled onto my paper.  Anyone I felt was "chosen" in some way, while I was not. 

Many on my list reflected areas where I felt less competent.  I envied writers with better skills and a longer track record in publishing, thinking it was luck that got them there.  I didn't know better. 

The exercise was cathartic.  By the end, I was quite ashamed!  What a terrible, mean-spirited person I was.  To be so envious of these other writers' well-deserved accolades and successes. 

But the exercise wasn't over. 

Facing Our Own Jealousy
Next, Cameron asked us to venture into our own personal Badlands.  Write down why we were jealous of each person. 

This took honesty, more thought.  "More successful" took care of a few names on my list, but most required going deeper into my envy.  Seeing what I felt I was missing out on. 

In most cases, I realized I'd been given the same opportunities as the writers on my list, but I had disregarded these opportunities:  agents who said, "Send us more," and I didn't; small magazines that rejected a short story but hand-wrote a note to me asking for my next one, which I never sent because of the sting of the rejection.  Classes I thought of taking but didn't, while a hard-working friend did, then went on to publisher sooner.

List #2 humbled me.  I saw how much I controlled my own destiny.  And how often I shut the door on gifts and chances that came my way quite freely.

The final step to the exercise--the action step--was to think of one antidote for each item on the list.  As small as writing a thank-you note, as large as submitting a story or manuscript.  By the time I got to this part of the exercise, I sensed a definite freeing-up of my "jealousy" blocks.  I got excited about some of the antidote ideas.  I felt clear and clean inside, more aware of the abundance of opportunities that are always out there.

Not long after, a short story got published.  Then a book contract came my way.  My writing career was launched.Seth Godin's FOMO
Thought leader Seth Godin, author of the brilliant book, The Icarus Deception, calls this syndrome "FOMO," or fear of missing out. 

In a recent blog post, Godin wrote more about this.  He mentioned the "lizard brain," or that ancient part of us that only wants things to be safe, risk-free.  The lizard brain goes on "high alert" whenever we make a move toward more creativity.  It wants everything to basically stay the same--predictability means good survival.  The lizard brain is interested in knowing that "everyone likes us, that no one is offended," Godin says. 

Tough for writers--especially when we're writing about difficult subjects.

Godin goes on to say that the combination of FOMO, "the pain we may feel from others having good fortune," and this strong need of the lizard brain for everything to be always fine, safe, and predictable, makes us pretty unhappy.  And very uncreative. 
 
But what if this fear of "missing out," this jealousy at what another creative person has that we don't, is a good sign? What if it's a sign that we're working on the edge of personal creative risk?  Trying new ideas, learning something new, embracing opportunities?

In other words, when we feel that black-heart of jealousy, when we get agitated because someone else won the prize, when we hate our own work because it's been rejected--we're actually doing something right?
 
 Your Lizard Brain Only Wants Safety and Survival--Not Creativity  
Godin goes on to say that when we feel no worries, no sense of edginess, we've probably settled.  For what?  For what the lizard brain believes is safe.  And most likely, not creative. 

I thought about the times I'd taken a creative risk--like send another story to a magazine that hand-wrote its rejection note.  Usually, something good happened.  Not always, but often.  If that story didn't get accepted, I got more comments, more encouragement from the editors (hand written notes are the saving grace of rejection letters).  This kept me going until I hit on the right story at the right time for that publication.  The edge kept me trying, rather than settling for safety.

An unusual way of looking at the purpose of jealousy in our creative lives.    

Want to see if it's true for you?  Try this week's writing exercise, below. 

This Week's Writing Exercise
1.  Have a talk with your lizard brain.  Ask it what it wants--what kind of safety it's seeking.  Make notes so you'll recognize its voice when it speaks up during a creative moment.

2.  List three risks you could take in your creative life right now.  Next to each, write down why these would put you out of the "safe zone."  What kind of pay-off would each give you, creatively? 

3.  Take a step toward one of these, if you wish.  Be alert to the lizard brain's reaction.  Since you know it better now, you can talk calmly to it as if it were a child, reassuring it that you have things in hand.